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Road to 2014: Accountability and Responsibility of Muslim Politicians

Since Malawi embraced multiparty democracy in 1994, Malawian Muslims like any other citizens have been playing a very decisive role in electing the winning Government either through voting or through bankrolling of the parties. In the general elections of 1994, 1999, 2004, it was the Muslim vote which swung the pendulum to the winning party, while in 2009, it was mainly the Malawi Asian Muslims who bankrolled the then winning party through both financial and material contributions.

However, after almost 20 years of multiparty democracy, pertinent and crucial questions that Muslims in Malawi should be asking themselves are: Do politicians deliver their promises to the Muslims after they have helped to get them into power? Are Malawian Muslims being truly served politically?

 In 2014, the equation will not change much, and one can foresee that both Malawi Asian Muslim money and the indigenous Malawi Muslim votes will be pivotal in deciding which party carries the day and forms the next Government.  While courting the Muslim vote and financial assistance, politicians, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have always promised the community heaven on earth in terms of social-economic development.

The indigenous Malawians have been promised improved access to tertiary education and equal and fair participation in Government and the civil service. Some have even promised to provide an enabling environment for us Muslims to establish our own University that will cater for our future generations as the University of Malawi does not offer us the same opportunities as our non-Muslim counterparts. Those of us who are in business, both indigenous and Asian, have always been promised equal and fair awarding of Government business and contracts and access to markets.

 However, after four general elections, the Muslim is still waiting to be served. After 20 years of democracy, the Muslim is languishing on the peripheral of society both socially and economically. Access for Muslims to UNIMA is still a big challenge despite our students attaining the required grades. It is laughable and despicable at the same time to note that despite Muslims making atleast 40% of the general population, our access to UNIMA is less than 0.05%.

Please don’t listen to the propaganda that Muslim students are not good enough as this has been disproved by those excelling in tough and competitive educational environments such as Asia and the West.  The enabling environment to establish our own university as promised by some politicians is still nonexistent. Government businesses and contracts are still never awarded to us, our people, despite attaining the education and qualifications, are still scarce in the Civil Service and statutory corporations and the future for our kids still in murky.

A thriving political system must hold politicians and leaders accountable and responsible  for their conduct and promises after they have gone into power. Accountability and responsibility in Islam thus are very important facets since Islam and Politics are intertwined.  Just as Islam teaches us how to say Salah, observe Sawm, pay Zakah and undertake Hajj, so does it teach us how to run a state, from a government, elect councillors and members of parliament, make treaties and conduct business and commerce. The choices we make in supporting a political party is also legislated by the Quran. Therefore, accountability to God and the community at large for all activities is paramount to a Muslim’s faith, and in turn the Muslims expect the politicians having made promises to be accountable and responsible in ensuring delivery.

Sharia defines clearly what is true, fair and just. Furthermore, it outlines what are society’s preferences and priorities, what are corporate roles and responsibilities. Thus it is no surprise that Allah mentions repeatedly in the Holy Qur’an, the word hisaab more than eight times in different verses. Hisaab or ‘account’ is the root of accounting, and the references in the Holy Qur’an are to ‘account’ in its generic sense, relating to one’s obligation to ‘account’ to God on all matters pertaining to human endeavour for which every Muslim is ‘accountable’.

All resources made available to individuals are made so in the form of a trust. Individuals are trustees for what they have been given by God in the form of goods, property and less tangible ‘assets’. By the same definition, leadership in any form is also given to individuals as trust. Hence, the extent to which individuals must use what is being entrusted to them is specified in the shari’a, and the success of individuals in the hereafter depends upon their performance in this world.

In this sense, every Muslim has an ‘account’ with Allah, in which is ‘recorded’ all good and all bad actions, an account which will continue until death, for Allah will show all people their accounts on judgement day. Hence one of the most important aspects of Islam is the belief in a Day of Judgment. It is one of the six articles of faith and is central to the Islamic concept of accountability. For Muslims, the present life is not the goal; rather, it is the life after death that must always be the focus. This does not mean that Muslims should not enjoy their lives, but it does mean that they have to be conscious of God in all aspects of their life knowing that they will be asked about their decisions.

 The Day of Judgment is mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an. Moreover, it has more than one name, including the Day of Accountability. Allah says:

 On the day when every soul will be confronted with all the good it has done, and all the evil it has done, it will wish there were a great distance between it and its evil. But Allah cautions you (to fear) Him. And Allah is full of kindness to those that serve Him.

 And in another chapter:

Every soul will taste of death. And ye will be paid on the Day of Resurrection only that which ye have fairly earned. Whoso is removed from the Fire and is made to enter paradise, he indeed is triumphant. The life of this world is but comfort of illusion.

As these two verses illustrate, on this day, Muslims believe that they will be resurrected both physically and spiritually and will be asked by God about their lives, after which their final destination will be determined.

Another aspect of accountability is taking to consultation with the community. It plays a role of putting into effect national interest. Islam teaches us to run a government, to make legislation and decisions by the process of Shura. Shura is “to take decisions by consultation and participation” (3:159, 42:38). A ruler is a servant of the people. Both the ruler and the ruled will appear before Allah and account for their actions on the Day of Judgment. The responsibility of the ruler is heavier than the ruled. It entails that any ordinary citizen should have the right to ask any question on any matter to the ruler and the government. In the Islamic political system the head of the state or any government minister could be called to account if necessary and not to be treated differently from other citizens.

Of course we do not expect this issue of accountability inMalawipolitics to have a conclusion any times soon, or do we expect the politicians to comprehend it, especially so when it entails the Muslim community. Nor are we suggesting thatMalawishould have an Islamic political system to remedy the situation for that would be a dream far fetched, asMalawiis a secular state.

However, our argument is that this issue is fueled by a fundamental tension between claims derived from “promises” and claims derived from “participation” in national economic development of one section of the society. Attending to the ways in which these claims can and should be accommodated and balanced differently with respect to various politicians and political parties inMalawican unlock new avenues for improving accountability that can lead to a stop in abuse of the Muslim community before and after general elections.

Distinguishing new possibilities for accountability requires abandoning the belief that political accountability at the moment in Malawi towards the Muslims is genuine as it conforms to conceptual and ultimate principles of democratic participation and dispensation. Such a belief prevents us from recognizing specific prospects for limiting unfairness and injustice to our community.

Thus, we as Muslims should be seeking to create processes for checking such unfairness in the system with the full recognition that for the past 20 years we have always been on the mercy of politicians be them Muslims or non-Muslims. This should make us hopeful that in 2014 we will play our cards right and no politician will abuse our vote. Whoever comes to us to seek support in 2014 politically, we must ask them the pertinent question; how will you be accountable to us after we have voted you into power since history in the past 20 years has taught us a bitter lesson?

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